San Antonio Parkinson's patients find relief through music
Tremors subside when patients play keyboard
Some Parkinson's patients are finding relief from symptoms with the sound of music.
Dianne Johnson, a local nurse, discovered patients temporarily stopped having tremors while playing along on a special keyboard called a Clavinova.
A group of Parkinson's patients meet every Wednesday at the Franklin Senior Center in Stone Oak to play keyboard in a class headed by Johnson.
Lenny Camps attends the class regularly. She was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2009. She said she's always reminded that she has Parkinson's because of the tremors that she has to live with.
However, when she's in class, she can forget about having the disease.
"I have no symptoms at all at the moment when I'm playing the Clavinova," she said.
Judy Binder also attends the class regularly. She was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2008 and suffers from visible tremors as a result.
Within minutes of playing the keyboard, her tremors subside. She said the results often last up to an hour after the class.
"It's just a sense of relief and it feels really good and it's fun," she said.
Johnson said she made the connection between Parkinson's disease and music by chance. .
She said she'd heard how playing music helped wounded warriors deal with pain and decided to try it out with Parkinson's patients.
Exactly why and how it works is still a mystery but Johnson has some theories.
"They've done some functional MRIs to show that there is improvement in the increase in the amount of dopamine that circulates through the brain while they're playing music," she said. "For Parkinson's patients, the reason they have difficulty with movement and tremors and rigidity is because of lack of dopamine. So while they're playing music ... the dopamine is increased and while they're playing, their symptoms subside."
Patients don't have to be musically inclined to take part in the class. They use a specially designed keyboard called a Clavinova.
As music is played, lights are illuminated above the correct keys. All patients have to do is follow the lights and play along as best as they can.
"Basically, you're following the bouncing ball, but you have to concentrate, you have to think to pick up on the beat and play the key and listen to the music, so you're multitasking, which is not an easy task for us Parkinson's patients," said Binder.
Johnson said the more patients concentrate on playing, the more their symptoms subside.
It's a task that briefly transports patients to a place where Parkinson's doesn't exist.
"When you're playing the Clavinova, it's like you're normal again, without Parkinson's for a moment," said Camps.
Right now, the only Clavinova classes for Parkinson's patients in the nation are held in San Antonio at the Franklin Senior Center in Stone Oak every Wednesday.
For more information, call 450-0522.
If someone can't make it to the classes, Johnson said there are smart phone and iPad keyboard and piano apps that have the same effect as playing the Clavinova.
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